Last Friday in Rome, members of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) unanimously endorsed the Voluntary Guidelines for Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security. As chair for the negotiations that drafted the text of the Guidelines and Chief of USAID’s Land Tenure Division, I welcome the endorsement as a significant step forward towards addressing tenure issues that impact food security and sustainable development around the world.
This occasion signals an unprecedented recognition by governments and civil society of the importance of improving land and other resource governance systems as a strategy for reducing food insecurity. Securing land rights for men and women, indigenous people and other vulnerable groups, will help accomplish this goal. While the Guidelines are a negotiated text, they accommodate many differing viewpoints and include numerous technical recommendations reflecting best tenure practice, including the recognition of informal, or customary, tenure.
The Voluntary Guidelines provide countries with a robust framework to protect rights and improve land governance to encourage sustainable investment. Clarifying and enforcing land and resource rights and strengthening land governance systems will improve conditions for local people while also helping develop a business enabling environment by increasing the security of productive assets and improving predictability and stability for the private sector. Implementing the most appropriate best practices in countries with weak governance systems will be a challenge, but multilateral and bilateral donor agencies are already discussing how this can be achieved.
Importantly, the U.S. Government will use the Guidelines to help countries balance the need for private-sector investment in agriculture with the imperative to recognize the land and resource rights of individuals and communities. Recognizing that private-sector agricultural investment is necessary to increase world food production and reduce hunger, the Voluntary Guidelines stress that investments should reflect broadly participatory consultation between parties to ensure active, free, effective, meaningful and informed participation of individuals and groups in associated decision-making processes.
The U.S. Government strongly supports the Guidelines as they align with work that USAID is already doing and with U.S. Government programs such as the Equal Futures Partnership, which promotes political and economic participation of women, and President Obama’s Feed the Future Initiative. USAID will continue to serve as a leader on securing tenure to improve development outcomes related to increased food security, women’s empowerment and much-needed investment in the agricultural sector and improved land governance systems.